Local record label gets the rhythm right



YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS—Co-owners of Danger Collective Records, Jai Chebaia, left, and Reed Kanter, along with some of the company’s inventory. IAN BRADLEY/Acorn Newspapers

YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS—Co-owners of Danger Collective Records, Jai Chebaia, left, and Reed Kanter, along with some of the company’s inventory. IAN BRADLEY/Acorn Newspapers

Reed Kanter may have the best job a 21-year-old could ask for. He listens to music all day and goes to the skatepark when he needs a break. Technically he didn’t ask for the job—he created it.

Kanter runs Danger Collective Records, a Westlake Village record label he started in 2014.

“I started the label when I was a senior in high school. I was 17, I was in this band Casinos. We were really into making music and playing shows but we didn’t know what the next step was,” said Kanter, a Westlake native who now lives in Culver City.

LEARNING ON THE GO—Jai Chebaia at work in his office. IAN BRADLEY/Acorn Newspapers

LEARNING ON THE GO—Jai Chebaia at work in his office. IAN BRADLEY/Acorn Newspapers

“We had the idea to start a label so we started making our own CDs and organizing shows. I didn’t know what a label was, so it was more just for our stuff.”

But he learned.

In its first three years of business, Danger Collective has put out more than 80 releases and several of its artists played at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Kanter co-owns the label with his friend, Australian-born Jai Chebaia, 22, who joined the operation last year.

They met while organizing all-ages shows for local bands. Danger Collective worked the San Fernando Valley while Chebaia’s Lost Dog Collective was based in West Los Angeles.

“We were the west side crew and they were the Valley crew, we each had our own bands. It was friendly competition,” Chebaia said. “There were no all-ages shows; there was nothing for kids to do on a Friday night, so we were like, ‘Let’s give these kids something to do.’”

The label was built by signing bands Kanter met through the Casinos. Ironically what began as a means to promote his band started taking so much time Kanter quit playing.

“I don’t regret it. This has always been my passion. Playing in bands was working with other people whereas this was something I was building,” Kanter said.

As his friends got committed to their bands or school, Kanter was left to run the label, but he needed help. He called in Chebaia, whose collective had dissolved for similar reasons.

They work from a small office near Westlake High School, where Kanter was a student, but he now lives in Culver City, not far from Chebaia. They say the commute gives them time to listen to demos. They’d like to move the office to L.A. but right now it’s easier to stay put.

They’re always on the clock—Chebaia said he’ll often send emails at 2 a. m. When they’re not at the office they’re probably at a show supporting one of their bands or scouting a new act. They agree they don’t get enough sleep, but say it’s worth the trade-off.

They’ll only sign artists whose music they’re passionate about, otherwise, they say, there’s no incentive to promote it. The releases cover a range of genres, so it’s hard to describe the Danger Collective sound.

“The tie-in is songwriting. Our artists really (care) about their music, and are putting a lot of effort into their songwriting and production,” Chebaia said. “It’s less focus on ‘we’re releasing a single that’s going to hit the radio waves.’ It’s like ‘this is an album that in 10 years kids will say, ‘damn that’s a good album.’”

Just put it online

Platforms like Spotify, iTunes and Bandcamp make it easy for musicians to release music, but the artists have to promote themselves. Danger Collective handles that responsibility and others—manufacturing physical products, distributing to retailers, and arranging publicity.

Although they’re small, Danger is well–positioned to get music from the artist to the fan. “We are part of the label group House Arrest” Chebaia said. “House Arrest is distributed through Fat Possum Records, which is then distributed through which is then distributed through RED Distribution, which is the largest indie music distributor in the world.”

The arrangement allows Danger Collective to get its music into record stores around the country.

They’ve come a long way. In the label’s earlier days, Kanter had to oversee shipments of albums himself.

“We’d be sitting here packing 500 records on our own and sending them out. They hated us at the post office,” Kanter said. “We didn’t print any of our postage from the office; we used to go and write it on there and buy it. We were learning.”

That’s been a hallmark of their business—learning as you go.

Danger oversees publishing and licensing, which ensures a song is credited to the artist and cannot be used for commercial purposes without permission.

Handshake deals and verbal agreements used to suffice, but Kanter and Chebaia reached a point where they needed contracts to make their responsibilities clear.

Now Danger Records is incorporated as an LLC with a lawyer on retainer.

“It was funny because it was growing as we were learning so we were trying to keep up,” Kanter said. “I think we finally got the right rhythm with it.”